A photo of the Rochester Rhinos home for the 2022 season. (Photo courtesy of the Empire Soccer Club)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The news began with an exclamation point and ended perhaps with more question marks than anyone intended.

Tuesday’s announcement that Leicester City star striker Jamie Vardy would become a co-owner of the Rochester Rhinos was greeted with excitement while making some waves on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. But it also left observers asking more questions than the current owners could answer.

That included which league the team would compete in 2022 and their desire of re-branding the storied, 25-year-old franchise. The Rhinos, who have won four league championships, are the last non-Major League Soccer team to have captured the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, in 1999.

Rochester-based co-owners Wendy and David Dworkin kept a secret as to which league the team would participate in in. After the 2017 USL Championship season, they announced the team would take a hiatus. In 2018, the league was announced the Rhinos would play in USL League One. The Rhinos still have a page on the USL One website (https://www.uslleagueone.com/rochester-rhinos)

There are several possibilities for the future.

They could return to one of two the aforementioned USL leagues, USL League Two (fourth division in the U.S. Soccer pecking order) the United Premier Soccer League or to MLS’s proposed new lower division league.

Performing in the National Independent Soccer Association and National Premier Soccer League is out because already two Rochester-based clubs, the expansion Flower City Union and Rochester Lancers, already compete in those respective leagues.

Depending on which league to choose will determine the quality of the players. For example, if the Rhinos participate in the USL Championship, they will need close to MLS-caliber players with up-and-coming players on the roster. League One would mean a younger pro roster and League Two is an amateur league, a fourth division league in the U.S. Soccer professional pecking order. The NPSL also is fourth division, NISA third division.

During an afternoon Zoom call with the media, the Dworkins also did not offer much information about a possible rebranding.

When asked why they would rebrand a franchise that has developed a well-respected national reputation, Wendy Dworkin responded, “Well, we’re very excited, first of all to come back. I just think a rebrand will be a very nice refresh. We have many exciting announcements coming up in the next few weeks and few months. You’ll just have to wait and see what the next news from the Rhinos is.”

Wendy Dworkin was asked if the rebranding involved a possible name change.

“You’re just going to have to wait,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t tell everyone everything on day one.”

Added David Dworkin: “I will say we’re going to stay in Rochester.”

Actually, just south of the city.

They announced that the team will play at the United Sports Complex, home of the Empire Soccer Club, in West Henrietta, N.Y., on a temporary basis.

The stadium’s facilities will be upgraded, Wendy Dworkin said, not giving any details. There were no stands around a field, according to a picture of the venue on the Empire Soccer Club website.

To bring it up to a pro soccer level, the facility will need temporary stands, concession areas and a press box. The Dworkins did not talk about how large the venue’s capacity would be.

One thing was certain. At the present time, the Rhinos won’t be playing at their old home in the downtown stadium. The Rhinos played there from 2006-2017.

“In the short term, Empire United is what we’re planning on for 2022,” David Dworkin said. “Right now, the downtown stadium is not what we’re exploring. We’re looking for some other places in Monroe County. Things change but right now it’s not the downtown spot, it’s somewhere else in the county.”

Asked to expand on his answer, David replied, that they “want to try something different, different results.”